A California appellate court has affirmed a summary judgment in favor of an attorney in a legal malpractice action. In Tidgewell v. David E. Gentry, APC, a client hired an attorney to represent her in worker’s compensation claim and age discrimination suit against her employer. The attorney negotiated a settlement with the employer on the worker’s compensation claim and the client executed a standard form release agreement. At the time of signing, the attorney assured the client that the agreement would have no impact on the separate age discrimination claim.
However, when the client filed her discrimination claim, the employer asserted the settlement agreement as an affirmative defense to her claims. The client agreed to settle her discrimination claim at what she believed was a significant discount because her case was weakened by the prior agreement. She then filed a legal malpractice case against the attorney.
The attorney successfully moved for summary judgment. The trial court found that the release agreement unambiguously settled the worker’s compensation claim only, and did not waive or affect her discrimination claim. The client appealed.
Under California law, all worker’s compensation claims must be executed on a standardized form, which contains language to the effect that the settlement does not apply to actions outside of the worker’s compensation system. The parties did include an addendum to the standard form, but the language was unambiguously limited to the worker’s compensation claim and did not impact the discrimination claim. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the ruling.
Decision: Tidgewell v. David E. Gentry, APC